Ganglion cyst

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What is a ganglion cyst?

A ganglion arises from a joint, like a balloon on a stalk. It grows from the tissues surrounding a joint, such as ligaments, tendon sheaths and joint linings. Inside the balloon is a slippery fluid, similar to the fluid that lubricates your joints.

Ganglion cysts most commonly occur at a few sites in the wrist:

  • The base of the wrist

  • The end joint of a finger

  • The bottom of a finger

 

Causes of ganglion cyst

The cause of ganglion cysts is unknown. Ganglion cysts are most commonly found in younger people between 15 and 40, and women are more likely to be affected than men. These cysts are also common among athletes who repeatedly apply stress to their wrists.

 

Symptoms

Most ganglions form a visible lump. Although many ganglions produce no other symptoms besides the appearance of a mass, if a cyst puts pressure on the nerves in the wrist, it may cause pain, tingling, and muscle weakness. Large cysts, even if not painful, can be distressful due to their appearance.

 

When should I seek medical help?

There are circumstances when wrist pain might be caused or accompanied by severe issues. If such symptoms are present, it is best to seek immediate medical attention to avoid further complications:

  • Pain in your wrist is stopping you from doing normal activities

  • The pain is getting worse

  • The pain has not improved after two weeks

  • Any tingling or loss of sensation in your hand or wrist

  • Painful, warm, swollen and stiff wrists

  • The appearance of the cyst causes distress

 

Diagnosis

To diagnose ganglion in the wrist, your doctor will take your case history and past medical history into account. They will apply pressure to the cyst to test tenderness. Your doctor may shine a penlight up the cyst to see whether light shines through it to confirm if it is translucent (meaning there is no solid tissue inside). Further imaging is often not necessary before treatment.

 

Treatment

The treatment for ganglion cyst is primarily non-surgical. Here are some examples of non-surgical treatments: 

  • Observation. If you are symptomatic, your doctor may recommend observing to ensure no changes occur. 

  • Immobilization. Activity often causes the ganglion to increase in size. A wrist splint may relieve symptoms and cause the ganglion to decrease in size.

  • Aspiration. If the ganglion causes severe pain and limits activities, a doctor may drain the fluid from it. This procedure is called aspiration.

 

If your symptoms are not relieved by nonsurgical methods or if the ganglion returns after aspiration, your doctor may recommend surgery. The surgery is called excision. It involves removing the cyst and addressing the stalk where the cyst arises.